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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Warner Bros., Disney Locked in Virtual Online Battle

When most people think of massive multi-player online role playing games (if they even know what the term means) they think of geeks wearing neckgear, eating Doritos, while trying to avoid spilling Mountain Dew on their keyboard. But as the public perception’s of the Internet has changed, so has their perception of these increasingly popular games. Already in possession of both ample game-friendly film franchises and a growing familiarity with the gaming industry, long-time rivals The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. have jumped head-on into the increasingly crowded and lamely named MMORPG market. To the uninitiated, MMORPG games involve oft-complex plots set in alternate online universes. Players from across the globe adopt characters and live lives not possible in the real world. Known for their addictive qualities, the most popular of these games, “Everquest,” has spawned the nickname “Evercrack.” Yet Disney and Warner Bros. are bringing new approaches to the online role playing world, turning extant movie franchises into MMORPG games. Leading up to this point, thousands of films had been turned into video or computer games, but few if any have been turned into games that involve a monthly subscription fee; until now. Disney beat Warner Bros. to the punch in tapping into this rapidly growing segment of the gaming market when its North Hollywood-based Disney Online division put out “Disney’s Toontown Online” in 2003. But just last month, Disney announced plans for a new massively multi-player game based on “Pirates of the Caribbean. The move heralds the fact that Disney is likely in the MMORPG market to stay. “I would hope to tap more into this market more in the future. One of our strengths is building online communities for the whole family,” Steve Parkis, Disney Online’s vice president of premium products said. “We feel that we’re different from other players in the space. These types of games aren’t easy to create and they’re hard to manage from a consumer point of view. The customers don’t disappear and since we’ve gone through the painstaking process of getting good at MMORPG games, I see us continuing to expand in that area.” The Walt Disney Internet Group’s VR Studio is designing the game for Disney Online. The company hopes to market the game towards the tweener and teenaged audience by giving players the opportunity to personalize their own pirate character and form their own pirate crews. “It’s a great franchise between the theme park and the movie and now the game. It’s a brand that people know and love, and there are two movies coming out in the future that will keep it at the top of people’s minds,” Parkis said. “Who hasn’t wanted to be a pirate? From a creative standpoint it’s a cool world to explore and a cool consumer proposition to build a pirate world where you try to become the most legendary pirate in the Caribbean. It seemed natural for us and it will hopefully take us to an older audience.” The game is slated to go live to coordinate with the theatrical premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” in summer 2006. Though the subscription rate has not been finalized, Disney officials expect it to be in line with “Toontown Online’s” $9.99 a month pricing scheme. But “Pirates” isn’t the only studio hit being leveraged into a MMORPG, Burbank-based Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment recently launched “The Matrix Online” a game that intends to continue the storyline launched in the blockbuster “Matrix” trilogy. Seeking to re-create the virtual world of the Matrix, Warner Bros statements claim that the game will feature “intricate and exciting wire-fu’ combat, an extensive mission structure, social interaction and a completely customizable skill and ability system. Warner Bros. representatives were unavailable for comment. According to Jon Kraft, CEO of Los Angeles-based MMORPG publishing company Vicariant, Disney and Warner Bros’ recent moves represent a sea change in the way they approach this nascent industry. “The big companies are investing more in this area because it provides a recurring revenue stream that a typical console computer game doesn’t provide,” Kraft said. “It’s an emerging market that’s becoming more mainstream. It has traditionally been focused almost exclusively on hardcore gamers and there have been titles recently that have expanded that range. The big companies are trying to take advantage of this.” Currently available in stores nationwide, gamers can purchase copies of the “Matrix Online” game for $49.99. After the purchase, gamers can either subscribe online for a monthly subscription fee of $14.99 or purchase pre-paid game cards with 60 days worth of playtime for $29.99. Calabasas Going National The Valley’s newest magazine, the six-month-old, “Calabasas Life at its Best,” has expanded its circulation to over 140,000 and is slated to make its national launch this fall. Intended to be a more hip and more local alternative to “Town & Country,” the magazine focuses on upscale life in Southern California, including features on celebrities, cuisine, health, fashion and entertainment. Richard Bleiweiss, the bi-monthly magazine’s publisher, believes that the magazine will thrive nationally despite the regionalism reflected by its name. “We’re selling this magazine not just as Calabasas the city, but as embodying the Southern California life style,” Bleiweiss said. “We portray that lifestyle in the magazine and that’s why it’s becoming popular in areas outside of Calabasas. It’s not about Calabasas per se, but rather the lifestyle you enjoy living in this part of California.” According to Bleiweiss, the magazine has managed to break even since day one by employing just a bare bones staff of just under ten full-time employees. The magazine has already been successful in obtaining big name advertisers like Rolex, Cartier, and Bentley, who are seeking to appeal to the high-end consumers in Calabasas and the affluent areas surrounding it. Despite its youth, “Calabasas Living at its Best” has already won its first award, receiving the Western Publications Association’s Maggie award for best consumer entry of the year. The magazine is currently available for $4.95 a copy at Barnes and Nobles’ across the Valley and is also distributed free via targeted mailings in various Valley ZIP codes. Staff Reporter Jeff Weiss can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or at jweiss@sfvbj.com.

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